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Posted 06.01.07


Good Moods Spark Overly Credulous Beliefs, Study Finds

COLUMBIA, MO - People who are intuitive and in a good mood are prone to believe just about anything, according to a University of Missouri-Columbia researcher.

Laura King, professor of psychological sciences in the College of Arts and Science, along with a faculty member from Johns-Hopkins University, tested the notion during a series of interesting studies that examined how mood and intuition can affect a person's beliefs - even under the most unique circumstances and scenarios.

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"When you're in a good mood and more intuitive, you're open minded, creative and engaged in what appears to be reality," King said. "You make non-rational associations."

Study No. 1 - UFO and ghosts sightings

A total of 121 MU undergraduate students participated in this study. All of them completed a brief measure of their intuitiveness. Then, half were asked to read a short story with a positive ending; participants were placed in the role of hero - making them feel good. The others read a neutral story about walking around campus. The researchers presented four short video clips, which lasted about 20 seconds each; two featured UFO sightings and two focused on ghosts. Participants were asked numerous questions - mostly about whether they believed the video and wanted to be present at the UFO sighting.

Participants who were in a good mood and who scored high on the measure of intuition were more likely to find the videos believable, as well as emotional and exciting, King said.

Study No. 2 - Throwing darts at a picture of a baby

This study dealt with sympathetic magic, which King said is the notion that two objects that look alike share an essential relationship - for example, a person and voodoo doll.

Before the study, 208 participants completed a measure of intuition and positive mood. Then they were asked to throw darts at a photo of a baby. During the first portion of the study, participants were led to believe they'd be throwing darts at numerous shapes and would receive a quarter for each hit. They were given six practice throws. Following the practice shots, the baby's photo was tacked to the dartboard. As expected, King said, while all participants had difficulty hitting the target with the baby's face, these results were especially true of intuitive participants who were in a good mood.

"It's as if people believed that somewhere a baby was screaming because darts were hitting the baby in the face," King said.

Study No. 3 - Contamination

Finally, King and her research team examined people's feelings and beliefs about contamination through social interaction. Once again, the participants completed a measure of intuition. Their moods were influenced by the playing of music and classified as positive or neutral. Each of the 80 participants was led to believe they were being paired with another person to complete the study. That other person was fictitious. Through online messages, they became acquainted. Each shared an unusual circumstance from the past 24 hours. In one of the messages, the fictitious person discussed a repulsive experience from earlier that day.

Shortly after, the participant was taken to a room to meet the fictitious person. Researchers asked the participant to arrange the chairs. However, before the meeting, the participant was told the fictitious person had to leave.

King measured the distance between chairs and discovered that intuitive participants who had been put in a good mood (happy and intuitive) arranged their chairs farthest from the fictitious person - indicating a belief that they too could be contaminated.

King said psychologists have very often approached superstitious beliefs as the exception to the rule of rationality. The results of the three studies help with understanding that the capacity for belief is related to more general processes, which is a "good thing, really," she said.

"The capacity for faith is certainly strongly related to health and well-being," King said. "As scientists, we don't have to explain all belief away; instead, we can come to understand where and how belief happens."

The studies, "Ghosts, UFOs, and Magic: Positive Affect and the Experiential System," were published collectively in the May issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.



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